Five for Five
Tell us about yourself and your music
Music has been a guiding passion in my life since early childhood, so I have no idea why I never studied it formally! I’ve worked in many parts of the field – as an orchestral musician, writer, agent, artistic manager for several international orchestras, and perhaps most successfully as a Grammy Award-winning recording producer. About seven years ago, I began composing at the behest of my wife who had just received a cancer diagnosis. I wrote my first piece – you can hear it on Alice K. Dade’s Naxos recording ‘Living Music’ on a broken down train as a way of passing several potentially frustrating hours. I’ve been fortunate to find support and encouragement from my many friends in the music world and made new ones thanks to interest in my music. I was also fortunate to find two publishers and a record label willing to take the risk of taking on a not-so-young composer writing in a traditional genre. And even more surprising, received several commissions and was named Composer-in-Residence for Habana Classica, Cuba’s first international classical music festival. Composing was a natural development of everything I had done and continue to do in music. Interestingly, it helps me in the aspects of my musical life. I look at scores in a completely new way. Someone wrote that composers write the music they want to hear. That is certainly true in my case: my music is a unique melange of the music I love to put together in a whimsical way which reflects my nature. I hope people enjoy it and that it takes them to a place where we metaphorically meet each other.
Talk to us more about your latest release
Five for Five, released by Paris based Evidence Classics, began with a Bassoon Quintet which I wrote as a revenge piece for my friend Fei Xie, the Principal Bassoon of the Minnesota Orchestra. I had been engaged to play clarinet in a rather difficult Woodwind Quintet at an American music festival. When I was having dinner with the other musicians, I asked whose idea it was to program this piece. Fei asked everyone to put down their knives: it was his idea. I jokingly said I would write him a piece that we even more difficult. A year later at the same Festival, Fei recorded the Bassoon Quintet along with four other quintets for solo wind instrument and string quartet. With the exception of the Oboe Quartet, which I wrote for Korean oboist Youngjoo Lee, the other pieces were receiving their world premiere performances and recordings. I have to thank conductor and violinist Scott Yoo, director of Festival Mozaic, for suggesting and encouraging a recording of the Quintets. Producing a recording of my own music is the most difficult task for me as it is difficult to find the objectivity essential in production but I think, thanks in no small measure, to an extraordinary group of musicians, it turned out rather well.
What inspired you to write this release?
As a wind player, it made perfect sense to feature the main wind instruments in a series of pieces that sought to capture not only the character of the instruments but also that of the musicians who inspired each piece. The string quartet accompaniment – much more than accompaniment – can be as intimate or symphonic in character, so ideal for this music.
Describe the writing and recording process
I often say there are two kinds of composers (leaving aside the geniuses!): those who stare at a blank sheet for hours or days before penning a note, waiting perhaps for the spark from heaven. And then those of us who have two many ideas and perhaps write too quickly. I am definitely in the latter category. In the case of each of these pieces, I had the sound, sensibility, and musical aesthetic of each of the wind soloists in mind. They are all musicians whose work and in particular sound I know well, having played with them in Festival Mozaic for several years. As I am a full-time professional recording producer, this should have been the easy part but composing uses a different part of the brain from production. In any case, we recorded all five pieces in a marathon following a music festival in which all the pieces were performed. The sessions went smoothly – how could they not with these great musicians. I can honestly say that they found the heart of my music and made it sound much better than it is!
Any plans to release a video?
Any plans to hit the road?
At the moment, like most musicians around the world, the concerts of my music have all been either canceled or postponed. We wait for the end of the corona crisis, and a return to the stage.
As an indie artist, how do you brand yourself and your music to stand out from the rest of the artists out there?
Every true artist has a unique voice, born of his or her life experiences and the sound of that inner voice that compels a composer to put pen to paper.
Who have you been listening to lately?
Where to begin! As I have gotten older, my tastes have become much more eclectic. I have a particular passion for French and English classical music of the late 19th and early 20th century as well as the composers who defined the American sound, such as Barber and Copland. Add to the mix a passion for Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, and now K-Pop. Don’t laugh – I love Girl’s Generation new hit ‘Genie.’
Who are your biggest influences?
The sounds of nature: bird song may be the most beautiful music I know. The English pastoralists, the great French composers Debussy, Ravel, and Faure. And American Aaron Copland.
Tell us about your passions
Hiking or walking – nature. Animals. Visiting sub-Saharan Africa, walking the Kalahari.
What else is happening next in your world?
I’ve just finished recording sessions in Soissons for Warners and am looking forward to producing a recording in London next month with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. As we slowly come back to normal, I’m hoping to finish a recording of my music begun at Texas Tech University and awaiting the European premiere of my Chamber Symphony in Prague in November.
Thanks for an awesome interview, Michael Fine